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June - July 2004

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British Muslims: Integration Not Isolation

by Krishan Gopal Dutt

With the upsurge in radical Islamic extremism threatening peace and security in Britain today, a well-known British writer and two prominent Muslims give their candid views on a serious dilemma that is seen as a challenge to British democracy and secularism

With all this extremist hysteria and anti-British hatred festering in the minds and hearts of a certain section of the Muslim community resident in the UK, many of whom were born here, it does come as a great surprise - and a rude shock - to witness this sad turn of events in recent times.Surprising indeed that many of these onetime immigrants - and their second- and third-generation offspring - who came from backward, poverty-stricken autocratic regimes, some fleeing from political turmoil, violence, and sectarian persecution - and now enjoying a good life in affluent and democratic British society, should act in the is negative manner.

According to a recent poll, 13 per cent of British Muslims , notably Pakistanis and North Africans, 'approved of a renewed terrorist assault, on the scale of the 9/11 outrage, on targets in America and \Britain.' And we have in our midst fiery Mullahs like Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri openly and defiantly preaching rabid anti-British hatred, and urging young Muslims to take to Jehad against the West as Soldiers of Islam.. Tom Stacey, eminent writer and political commentator, in his brilliant essay 'Zealots in our Midst' published in the Daily Mail, referring to immigrants and asylum-seekers from foreign lands arriving in the UK, says that 'these immigrants were not integrating but instead were gathering in isolated communities far removed from the nation around them.' Stacey's further comments are worth pondering when he talks of 'Brides and Grooms being imported and never learning English, and the coming of Mullahs whose overriding function (in the UK) was the reverse of integration.'

And Tom Stacey talks about meeting a Muslim (let's call him 'Abdullah' to safeguard his identity) serving his term in Wandsworth jail for a drug offence. "Abdullah was born in England and schooled here, and yet hardly knew anything of British history or culture, hadn't a kind word for our glorious tradition of tolerance and secularism, and berated British democracy and way of life as 'un-Islamic.' "Such people clearly do not wish to be an integral part of a modern, multiracial Britain. They do not cherish our democracy and diversity. To them the Christian faith is an alien and unacceptable one. They are among us but not with us."

In this context I also refer to the very recent statements of two prominent British Muslims expressing their grave concern at the alarming rise in radical Islamic extremism among young fanatics who take pride in becoming ardent followers of Osama bin Laden, and aligning themselves with dangerous terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and Al-Muhajiroun which aim to destabilise British society and to harm Britain

Sarfraz Manzoor, the deputy commissioning editor at Channel 4 had some disturbing though thought-provoking comments to make on the alienation of young frustrated Muslims who were quite pre4pared to kill in the name of Jehad.

Of the eight men arrested on suspicion of planning an Al Qaeda-inspired bombing campaign in England, Manzoor said: "Seven of the eight are of Pakistani origin as I am, and are the latest additions to a depressingly long list of young Muslims who harbour such a virulent hatred and animosity for Britain and what it stands for, that they are willing to kill, and to die a 'Martyr's' death, in the country of their birth."

The answer to this depressing dilemma, according to Sarfraz Manzoor, lies in the 'insular manner' in which British Muslims have chosen to live. The Muslim population of the Bedfordshire town of Luton, for example, huddle together in Bury Park where they have created a 'virtual ghetto.' They prefer to remain aloof and far removed from the indigenous population.

On top of this dismal scenario, says Sarfraz, young British Muslims, many of them unemployed with poor education, are "seduced by the extremist nonsense which is taught in the name of radical Islam in many of Britain's Mudrassas and Mosques, often by uneducated and bigoted Imams from Pakistan and other Islamic countries, and without any knowledge or awareness of the British way of life."

Sarfraz gloomily adds, "the old symbols of (British) nationhood, patriotism and belonging - the Queen, the Last Night of the Proms, the Union flag - mean nothing to these alienated and angry young Muslims who, though born here, do not accept Britain as their homeland."

This was made obvious as recently as on April 2, by a group of young Asian Muslims - ardent supporters of the militant Al-Muhajiroun led by firebrand Anjum Chaudhury - vociferously raising provocative slogans and gleefully burning the Union flag at a rowdy anti-West demonstration in front of the Jama Masjid in London's Regent Park. And they boisterously hollered, "We're Muslim, not British!"

Another outspoken critic of anti-British belligerency is none otter than Lord Nazir Ahmed whom I had run into at a large international conference on universal peace and religious fraternity held in Seoul, South Korea, last August. This was all the more surprising, since this prominent member of British Muslims belongs to the militant Mirpuri Kashmiri community in UK who are in the forefront f radical Islamic extremism, and have openly declared war, Jehad, on India over the volatile Kashmir issue. (Omar Shareef, the 27-year-old suicide bomber from Derby who died in Israel, was a Mirpuri Kashmiri).

Talking of his encounter with an Imam at Friday prayers at a mosque in his hometown of Rotherham, Nazir was somewhat taken aback to hear in the Imam's sermon to the Muslim congregation very derogatory references against indigenous British people. "It was typical of the biased and prejudiced views that a significant number of Imams are inflicting on Muslim audiences in mosques in Britain today", said Lord Nazir Ahmed, who further stated, "These Imams bear some responsibility for the alienation of young Muslims who are being told to hate this country and what it stands for, and are being driven into the arms of extremists and terrorist sympathisers who frequent mosques.

"An increasing number of third-rate Islamic clerics are coming to Britain by dubious means and for dubious purposes: they come from the Indian sub-continent, speak no English, have no knowledge or understanding of British culture, and have preached in a village mosque back home and not considered good enough to progress to a mosque in a major city.

"The main religious criterion is not wisdom or knowledge or scholarliness but whether they can deliver the kind of fiery sermon that will draw in the crowds. Young Muslims who come under the influence and spell of such narrow-minded Imams are filled with nothing but hatred and absurd notions about Britain and the British people.

"The government has failed to properly control the way Imams are allowed to come to Britain; they should be compelled to sit tests not only in (Islamic) theology but also in the English language and British culture, history and way of life."

To my knowledge Lord Nazir Ahmed is probably the first-ever prominent Muslim leader to come out with such a bold and logical statement, and it would do the UK Muslim community good to heed Nazir,s point of view.

The full version of this article is available in the print edition.

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